Osage Orange Tree

Osage Orange Tree

“Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote poet Robert Frost. However what, precisely, makes fence? If you happen to’ve ever had the doubtful pleasure of placing a fence up — of reducing, splitting and setting posts and stretching wire — you simply may reply, “A fence that builds itself.” And because you’re fantasizing, you may add, “…and takes care of itself, too.”

Properly, consider it or not, there’s such a fence. Chances are high you have seen one whereas driving alongside rural roads and looking over neat hedgerow-lined fields. Through the latter half of the nineteenth century and the primary few a long time of this one — up till the time barbed wire turned extensively out there and cheap — settlers and farmers all through a lot of the jap half of the USA planted their fences.

Most of the time, the tree they used was the Osage orange tree, generally additionally known as prairie hedge, hedge apple, horse apple, bowwood or yellow-wood. Most people as we speak, although, realize it just for its distinctly ugly, virtually otherworldly-looking fruit: an inedible, fleshy inexperienced orb the scale of a grapefruit or giant orange, with a warty, furrowed floor sparsely lined with lengthy, coarse hairs. Whenever you break the globe open, it exudes a bitter, milky, sticky sap that ultimately turns black and that provides some individuals an irritating rash.

However magnificence, in spite of everything, is within the eye of the beholder, and any homesteader who locations better worth on usefulness than on look will discover a lot to admire within the Osage orange.

Osage (Maclura pomifera) is the only real surviving member of the genus Maclura — of its many family from previous geologic eras, solely fossils stay. It’s also, nevertheless, a member of the household Moraceae, which encompasses the mulberries and the figs, in addition to numerous tropical and semitropical bushes.

When mature, the Osage orange measures from 10 to 50 ft tall and has a trunk 1 to 2 ft in diameter. Its branches kind an excellent, spherical crown, until the bushes are rising intently collectively in a hedge and haven’t got room to unfold naturally. Between Might and July, the species sports activities tiny greenish flowers.

Different distinguishing traits of the Osage orange embrace deeply furrowed, braidedlooking, darkish orange bark; lengthy (3- to 5-inch), shiny, egg-shaped, darkish inexperienced leaves, that are pointed at one finish; and (maybe most importantly) many sharp, metal robust thorns that make this tree a formidable barrier, to say the least.

However Osage orange’s worth extends properly past its use as a dwelling hedge.

When early French settlers ventured west of the Mississippi River — into what’s now jap Texas and Oklahoma and western Arkansas — they encountered the Osage Indians, who have been recognized far and vast for making bows that have been superior weapons for preventing and searching. The weird tree that the Osage used for making their bows was unknown to the French, who promptly dubbed it bois d’arc, or “wooden of the bow.” Later pioneers corrupted the identify to bowdark, and ultimately got here to name it bowwood.

The truth is, it did not take the early pioneers lengthy to acknowledge that Osage orange was a beneficial timber useful resource. Due to its nice power and sturdiness, the settlers used the newly found tree in practically each utility that required a troublesome, tenacious wooden.

The hubs and rims of the wheels on farm wagons, lined wagons and chuck wagons have been constructed from Osage. Its nice power enabled it to bear heavy masses, whereas its flexibility made it comparatively simple to bend into the circle of a wheel rim and likewise gave it the capability to soak up shock with out cracking or splitting. These properties, added to the wooden’s potential to withstand the consequences of soil and moisture, made for high-mileage wheel rims.

Sadly, the wooden’s extraordinary potential to withstand rot additionally put the tree in nice demand, inflicting the large native stands of Osage orange rising within the bottomlands of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas to be harvested wholesale to be used as fence posts and railroad ties. Osage orange might need ended up being a really uncommon sight for many People have been it not for its suitability as a hedge.

The plant met all the {qualifications}: It was “horse-high, bull-strong and pig-tight.” The tree was simply propagated from seed, and grew quick. In just a few years, it might kind a hedge virtually tight sufficient to carry water. Any areas between the bushes can be screened by the Osage’s thick, thorny branches. And because the bushes propagate by sending up shoots from their roots, all of the holes would ultimately fill in with new bushes.

If planted shut collectively, Osages would develop solely to about 20 or 30 ft, by no means attaining the peak of most deciduous bushes. Consequently, they made good subject borders: They may comprise livestock with out shading crops excessively. Apart from, it was so much simpler to plant bushes in strains round fields and pastures than it was to erect and keep rail or stockade fences.

In consequence, hundreds of miles of Osage hedges have been planted within the Midwest, East and South, far past the unique vary of the species. The tree was hardy and tailored properly to new environment, and as we speak it may be discovered rising (largely in hedges) from the Nice Plains to the Japanese Seaboard, from the Nice Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Though not generally used for fencing anymore (some individuals claimed that, as soon as established, the bushes have been laborious to manage and that their thorns generally injured livestock), the stands of Osage planted fifty to 100 years in the past stay a beneficial useful resource. Some farmers nonetheless make the most of them as pure enclosures, and lots of extra use the bushes for making exceptionally long-lasting fence posts.

Crafts individuals — woodworkers and people who make and use pure dyes — maintain the Osage orange in excessive esteem. And, maybe most necessary, the bushes function windbreaks and as badly wanted cowl for wildlife. If Frost was proper in saying that “good fences make good neighbors,” then the Osage is actually outstanding, as a result of it’s each fence and neighbor, to man and beast alike.

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